Sunday, March 17, 2013

Eat Chocolate Daily; Make it a Ritual

If you have not yet tasted bean-to-bar craft chocolate, you should.  It might just change your life.  It changed mine.

When I first tasted craft chocolate that was made in an artisans' bean-to-bar studio (rather than chocolate made in a large manufacturing facility) I understood what real chocolate should taste like. Real chocolate should taste like cacao beans and the tropics where they grow, which includes the vegetation and root system that surrounds the trees that cacao grows on.

Factory-made chocolate tastes like a sweet treat; craft chocolate tastes like the deliciousness of what nature can offer. And like what nature truly intended when cacao was created.

Ritual Chocolate from Denver, Colorado is a craft chocolate maker. They make chocolate right from the bean in small batches.  In fact, each batch is numbered and that number is stamped on the front of the chocolate bar wrapping so the consumer knows just when and where their chocolate was made.

Note the colour difference in these chocolate bars. 
These are Ritual Chocolate's four flavours,
and all are made with no milk added, and 75%
cacao solids, yet some of them look like milk chocolate!
What I like most about Ritual Chocolate is that they do not mess around with their single origin chocolate. What I mean by that is: they have four chocolate bars, each made from cacao beans of a different origin, and each bar is made with 75% cacao solids. 

So what is so good about making four kinds of chocolate with the same amount of cacao? Well, for starters, it places each origin on a level playing field and helps chocolate lovers to taste the difference in the cacao from region to region, without confusing the palate with varying amounts of sugar or milk.

For instance, when a chocolate maker creates a Madagascar-origin chocolate bar at 67%, a Dominican Republic bar at 75%, and an Ecuador bar in a 46% milk chocolate, it becomes difficult to taste the specific flavours of the beans' origin because our palates can become confused by the amount of sugar that is added to each bar.

Ritual Chocolate smartly made all their bars with the same cacao percentage, therefore making their product range excellent for chocolate tasting parties, and for wannabe connoisseurs like myself to learn about the differences in cacao bean flavours, colours and aroma.

I tasted all four flavours of Ritual Chocolate`s origin bars (Madagascar, Costa Rica, Gran Couva and Balao) and thoroughly enjoyed the tasting session.  My two favourites were the Costa Rica and the Madagascar, which coincidentally both won Good Food Awards.

Ritual's Madagascar bar was delicious. Over time, I have become very familiar with the flavour of cacao from the Sambirano Valley of Northern Madagascar with its citrus fruit flavours so prominent that I think I can identify that origin blindfolded by now.  I love the depth of the flavour and found similar qualities in Ritual's Costa Rican chocolate, but with a more tropical flair and berry fruit flavours. Gran Couva, from Trinidad, had a rich flavour also which I enjoyed, but Balao (Ecuador) I could have done without. Although it had the darkest colour to its chocolate, it was a bit pasty and dry. Other people who I knew that tasted it did like it, so I guess a `floral bouquet of orange blossom honey` was just not my thing.

Look at the milk chocolate colour of the Cabanero
on the bottom, except that is NOT milk chocolate!
It is very dark chocolate, even dark than the Peru 71%
above it in the picture. The milky colour is due to the rare
albino bean used to make the chocolate.
What I loved most about Ritual Chocolate was the overall chocolate experience that they gave me.  Not only did I get to taste four great flavours and learn about each regions' cacao, growing conditions and history (the wrappings provide a nice blurb on each), I learned how passionate they are about their craft.  The chocolate makers, Anna and Robbie, are so enthusiastic about bean-to-bar chocolate making that they shared information with me about the chocolate that other chocolate makers normally do not.  They sent me an amazing sampling of a light-coloured Cabanero chocolate, and passionately explained the albino bean that was used to make it.  And by contrast, they sent me a sample of a Peru 71%, which had a very dark colour and amazing rich flavour to the chocolate.

Also thanks to Ritual Chocolate, I had a chance to taste some chocolate made from unfermented beans, which were accidentally sent to them when they ordered fermented ones. It surprised me that it was not terrible, in fact, it was very interesting.  I was expecting something that could not be eaten at all, but upon tempering the chocolate I learned that it was palatable, but just less chocolaty than the chocolate we are accustomed to. It was a bit chalky and dry on the palate, but exciting in a way. This taste experience helped me better understand reasons why chocolate is fermented in the first place.

Ritual Chocolate`s enthusiasm is infectious. And it makes me realize that I am not alone in my world of endless chocolate curiosity.  If I lived closer to Colorado, I am sure that eating Ritual chocolate would become a daily ritual for me.

Ritual Chocolate is located at 3153 Larimer Street in Denver, Colorado. Please visit their website for more information:  Here are the package details of the chocolate that I tasted this week:

Ritual Chocolate Madagascar 2012 Harvest, 75% Cacao, 42.5g (1.5 oz)
Batch #: 001

Ritual Chocolate Costa Rica 2009 Harvest, 75% Cacao, 42.5g (1.5 oz)
Batch #: 025

Ritual Chocolate Balao 2012 Harvest, 75% Cacao, 42.5g (1.5 oz)
Batch #: 003

Ritual Chocolate Gran Couva 2012 Harvest, 75% Cacao, 42.5g (1.5 oz)
Batch #: 002

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